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We just hired a new PR agency. They’re smart people who have worked with great companies and are communication pros. But they wont blog.

Before we hired them, I told them I thought it would be cool if they blogged about their experiences working on our business. They told me it was a bad idea. I told them I wouldn’t stop asking.
And I haven’t stopped. It’s not that their reasons for not blogging aren’t good. They’re reasonable concerns. If I understand them correctly:

  • They don’t want to say anything that could damage relationships with the press or with clients
  • They believe an PR Agency should be invisible
  • They’re not clear who the target reader would be

I want them to blog because they have a lot of interesting insight to share. My sense is that their real challenge is not too different than most companies–it’s how to open up. It won’t be in oversharing or damaging relationships, they’re too smart for that. It starts with a commitment and a first post. Perhaps they don’t see the benefit or don’t want to take the time. That’s understandable, too. But I know many other PR professionals would want to know what they had to say. So would folks interested in Jive.

Just last week they were sharing things they’ve learned working with us. How different it is interacting and participating with an open and transparent company. The positives and negatives of collaborating with us within Clearspace. Conversationally, they’ve shared ideas they’ve had and things they’ve learned. These are all great things for their blog.

This isn’t a sticking point between us by any means. It’s completely their choice and they should decide for the right reasons. I don’t blame or fault them. It’s simply a wish. We’ll see if they come around.

I asked some folks on Twitter (some responses above) and Seesmic (responses from @llfa and @loudmouthman) what they thought about the idea and some of their thinking is included in this post. Obviously, all those people are early adopters, so it made a lot of sense to them. So, what do you guys think?

  • http://savinglives.wordpress.com Gary Walter

    I’m a big fan of GrandCentral. This service allows me to better control my phones and incoming phone calls. As a startup recently purchased by Google, they are still managing the challenges of beta. As one of their beta users, I frequently submit suggestions, questions, and ideas. However, I have never received a reply to any communications.

    Recently I wrote to them and suggested they are greatly underusing their blog. They use it for major announcements – which at this point are few are far between. The last major announcement was “old” news. They were touting a product change that had been in place for a couple of months. I wrote to them and suggested that if they don’t have time to answer each communication individually, at least keep us informed through the blog.

    Though I continue to be a fan of GrandCentral, I am having serious doubts about their management team. This lack of openness, does not breed trust.

    Reading your post above struck a chord with me. It seems like your PR firm wants to cover their butts. The decision seems based more on fear, rather than vision. It seems to me that they don’t want to lose other clients because of their support of Jive. It seems that they are afraid of saying the wrong thing.

    Recently I attended a meeting in the board room of a well known law firm in Denver. On the walls were photos of their senior partners with every U.S. President since Roosevelt. Democrats and GOP were displayed. What impressed me was their openness to display a bipartisan approach and their lack of fear that one party would shun them because of their work with the other party.

    I agree with @aloofschlpperke above “openness is the new black.”

  • http://craig.cmehil.com Craig Cmehil

    As a customer of Jive or any product really I would very much enjoy hearing what PR agency or any group that is working together with the company to improve it, enhance it, grow it, etc.

    Being able to understand all the aspects of group dynamic helps one to make the best decisions about the product whether you are not using it yet or for those of us already using it.

  • http://www.beyond20.com Fredrik Johnsen

    If a client came to us and wanted us to blog about them, we sure would! Openness is indeed “the new black”, and the clients that see this are the ones that are the most fun to work with as well. I don’t think there are many companies out there that are not using a PR or digital media agency, and why hide the fact? If you’re working with great agency people, talk about it! If you’re working with innovative clients, talk about it! Of course, you have to consider how much strategic detail you want to share, but you can say a lot without saying too much.

  • http://Website Darryl Siry

    I think you customers/community might care about what you have to say but why would they give a damn what your PR agency has to say? It would be a good sign that your PR agency “gets” blogging if they had a blog of their own that was relevant and interesting to their community but getting them to blog about working with you seems like a waste of time and money and wouldn’t really do anything for you or your community. I agree with your agency that if they do their job well they should be invisible.

  • http://www.attentionmax.com Max Kalehoff

    Perhaps your agency shouldn’t blog about you, but your agency should blog for a number of reasons. First, in this evolving age connected communications, to not blog is to be invisible. Invisible to press, invisible to other bloggers, invisible to clients and prospects — invisible to virtually anyone. Blogging is often one of the communications channels necessary to communicate with various key stakeholders.

    Secondly, blogging advances writing and strategic thinking skills, among all professional levels. And we all know that most PR firms can benefit in those two areas!

    Most of all, your PR agency should blog so it can acquire competency in blogging and other social technologies. Social media and community is a massive force and only getting more important. If don’t do it, you won’t understand how to exist among and leverage it.

    It’s kind of like asking: “Why should a PR firm write?” Yeah, a dumb question.

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  • http://michsineath.wordpress.com/ Mich

    I tend to lean more toward it being inappropriate for PR to blog. I posted a similar thread in January after not getting much response in our company blog. Here are some of the responses that I received:

    Posted By: Jeffrey
    I would question why we have a company blog if no one feels compelled or inspired to write it.

    ———————-

    Posted By: SteveCrescenzo
    As long as the PR person is honest about who he is and what he does … and as long as he doesn’t try to turn the blog into an over-the-top sales brochure for the company, and as long as he can write well about topics people will care about, why not?

    In fact, given that many PR folks are former journalists, or at least trained writers, they might be the best option for a blog … but they have to:

    a) Accept that a blog is an open forum, and they may not be comfortable with all of the comments;
    b) Understand that the blog has to be written in a personal style … the corporate boilerplate style they use in their press releases won’t fly with a blog;
    c) Not treat it as a “PR” vehicle where they must put a positive spin on everything. That won’t fly either.

    ———————-

    Posted By: Cher1117
    Steve’s answer is right on the ball. Also, what a great opportunity to discuss the latest moves by marketing or sales. In many of the businesses I have worked with, employees often didn’t find out about ad campaigns or new products until they saw the ad published or the product on the shelf! They were hungry to find out not only what was going out to the consumer but also what went on behind-the-scenes. When GE posted its Dancing in the Rain commercial AND a “making of” piece explaining the artwork involved, the site got thousands of hits in just a week–and continued to get hits for months.

    ———————-

    Posted By: Cher1117
    People love reading about “inside the workings of…” The GE piece on its Viking commercial talked about the actors laughing as they got their wardrobe (all they knew is they were doing a GE commercial), and how they had to practice rowing so they didn’t go in circles, etc. Bloopers are also fun (or as I’d call them, Bleepin’ Bloopers)

    Comments from consumers testing a pilot program, or why certain ads didn’t make it (don’t mention that the main actor got arrested, though)… anything that emphasizes the human side of business.

  • http://Website Marshall Kirkpatrick

    I wonder if they are afraid of being made fun of for not doing a good job of it. I think most PR people believe they have a vested interest in looking supremely professional at all times and that’s not easy to do with a new medium based largely on authenticity. Especially when you’re in PR. Some of my favorite people are in PR, I swear. I actually don’t think everyone needs to blog, either. Some folks just aren’t good at it and would be better of doing their jobs.

  • http://www.jivesoftware.com Greg Unrein

    How about asking them to start blogging on Brewspace (Jive’s internal Clearspace deployment)? It addresses each of their concerns and gets them into the habit of communicating with a blog. It provides some of the value you’re looking for from the activity. And, it could lead to a public blog…

  • http://chriskalani.com chriskalani

    Yes they should. They could at least use fake names or something.

  • http://www.shinyred.tv Jaz Cummins

    We’ve certainly always blogged about clients. Generally with a news and successes kind of theme rather than anything too in-depth, but as a matter of course. We even had a client jokingly complain the other day because they hadn’t been on the blog for a while!

    We enjoy sharing the things that we’ve learned – and reading other agencies blogs for discussion and insights.

    And, I’ve got to thank briansolis on twitter for drawing my attention to this post!

  • http://www.vocenation.com Colin Crook

    Why don’t I answer this question with a link to our PR blog :)
    http://www.vocenation.com/2008/02/06/voce-heart-cnp/
    @ girl in video response: “i wonder how honest the pr agency would be?” It’s about transparency. You can’t blog and be dishonest. What a horrific thought. I’m proud we are contributing code Voce’s used in development of the Sony PlayStation blog, back to the wordpress community. I’m not going to bash the other pr firm here, but the target reader is me! I’m sure these guys have a blog and get social media, they just choose not to blog about specific clients and their initiatives.? I don’t mind sharing what cool and unique things we’ve done w/ other comms professionals via the VoceNation blog, and neither should they. But maybe that’s just the sick and twisted fantasy world I live in. Maybe they’ll at least jump into the conversation via comments! Obvious how I feel about it, Sam.

  • http://Website Paul May

    How would this be a good use of your PR budget? You want to target your efforts at the channels that best reach your target audience. which in not the readership of a PR blog. As a proxy for measuring this, go look at other PR blogs and follow the comments to see who reads them…invariably the commenters are other PR professionals.

    Seems to me that the time spent blogging about you would be better spent identifying and reaching out to the audiences that you actually care about.

  • http://www.gobigalways.com/ sam

    Wow. I posted this and took off for work only to be met with a ton of comments. Awesome insights.

    Agreed that there has to be a clear purpose and it has to be written by someone who gives a crap. Blogging for blogging sake reminds me of the URL I saw on a bag of charcoal back in the 90s.

    @Gary- Good insight on Grandcentral and using their blog to update peeps and regarding openness. Loved your example.

    @Craig- Valueable to have a customer’s insight (and someone outside the PR industry) to round out the perspectives. Thanks.

    @Fredrik- Agreed that if there’s greatness it should be shared. Same thing with problems. I’d be scared if there was nothing to say.

    @Darryl- It’s worth a shot, no? If it sucks they could deep six it.

    @Max- Really great perspective. Agreed on all points.

    @Mitch- Wow. Thanks for sharing all those comments.

    @Marshall- Bingo. It’s always fear. And so true on the “professional” thing with PR people. All the more reason to just be human. Companies go through the same thing. “We’re too professional to let our guard down.”

    @Greg- Great idea. I’ll talk to them about that.

    @Chris- I’ll have them use the name “Chris Kalani” from now on.

    @Jaz- Have you ever asked to blog about something other than news and successes? What about mistakes?

    Thanks for all the comments. I appreciate every one.

  • http://www.gobigalways.com/ sam

    @Colin- I love how passionate Voce is about social media. It’s refreshing.

    @Paul- Should we be paying for it? I guess that’s a question worth thinking about. I guess if they were treating it as an extension of Jive’s PR. But then it would feel pretty dishonest.

  • http://www.cloudfour.com Jason Grigsby

    Sam wrote:

    “Just last week they were sharing things they’ve learned working with us. How different it is interacting and participating with an open and transparent company. The positives and negatives of collaborating with us within Clearspace. Conversationally, they’ve shared ideas they’ve had and things they’ve learned. These are all great things for their blog.”

    I would argue that they are all great things, but they are great things for Jive’s blog, not their blog.

    The first two sentences are all about things relative to Jive’s core mission of changing the way people work. The third sentence leaves it open that they might share things that are unrelated, but in context, it sounds like more things that they’ve learned from working with Jive and the open collaboration.

    My suspicion is that if the PR firm were to start a blog, open collaboration, transparent company, etc., wouldn’t be the topics they would blog about. They aren’t core to their business.

    That’s not to say that open collaboration and transparent companies don’t help PR firms and probably make life interesting in other ways. It just seems like this would be a tangent to what they likely blog about. Their blog would probably be focused more on PR 2.0 like Brian Solis’s or Steve Rubel’s blogs.

    My take is that they should blog. They should blog on their own site about what they are passionate about. They should blog on your site as guests on the insights they’ve gained because it helps your corporate mission.

  • http://www.gobigalways.com/ sam

    @Jason You’re bang-on. I don’t mean to tell them what to blog about at all. You’re right, those probably are topics we’d blog about. Their insight is totally up to them. :)

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  • http://www.gobigalways.com/ sam

    @Brian – That’s one hell of a post. Good perspective, thanks for it.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jljohansen John Johansen

    I just read Brian Solis’ response to this post and since he’s nabbed the “it depends” card, I’m going to take a side. (While acknowledging that he’s right.)

    My perspective is that PR agencies should have a blog. But, they are not news organizations. They are not trying to cover everything. Their content will need to be limited to their experience, which is either PR itself, or their clients.

    I appreciate the real concerns about client privacy. Even on my company’s blog we have had concerns raised that someone will share too much competitive information. However, a blog would also be a good way for PR people to associate their clients with topical issues. Not everything can wait for (or needs) a press release.

    Blogs are also a good way to show that the agency is staying ahead of communications trends. A static Website with some executives and a client roster doesn’t answer the question of how the agency is relevant today. Participation makes you stand out and gives you an edge.

    That’s additional 2 cents.

  • http://Website fermata

    well, let’s get transparent then. Which PR agency is it?

  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan…

    Wow. Nobody really had anything to say about this, did they? : )

    PR agencies are still working on this stuff. They’re learning. We had TONS of them and come learn at PodCamp Toronto this past weekend. That trend is on the rise. So maybe they’ll blog about you after they attend a local PodCamp. : )

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  • http://www.donteattheshrimp.com Josh Morgan

    Um, has the PR agency in question responded here? I saw a post from Voce, guessing they aren’t the agency in question.

  • http://blog.rblevin.net RBL

    Get a new PR agency.

  • http://tabithagracesmith.com/ Tabitha Grace Smith

    @Josh Morgan they’re being invisible…. remember?

  • http://www.gobigalways.com/ sam

    I’m actually sitting at the SFO airport having just spent a couple of days with our PR peeps. I’ve had a lot of dialogue with them about this during this trip. They’re actively talking about this and will make the call that’s best for them and their agency. I think they’re doing a good job listening and evolving and for sure all of your comments have made a strong impression on them.

    We’ll see where they go from here. :)

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  • http://Website KRAM

    I’ll blog about you and be honest for 25% OF THEIR FEE.

  • http://trenchwars.wordpress.com Judy Shapiro

    We need to update our thinking about this function called PR. In fact, it is now really about D-PR – digital PR. It takes the concept of “public relations” and uses digital technology to do just that – have relations with “the public” — not just the reporters and the media. Here’s aposting to explain what I mean. http://trenchwars.wordpress.com

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  • Alex Singleton

    It makes no sense for a PR agency to avoid blogging. After all, an agency’s key skillset is the creation compelling content about their clients. And if they lack the skills to create such content for themselves – or don’t think it’s valuable – why should anyone clients put business their way?